Page last updated at 13:53 GMT, Monday, 15 June 2009 14:53 UK

Jacobite cause mansion 'robbed'

A Jacobite re-enactment group visit the excavation site
A Jacobite re-enactment group visit the excavation site

Archaeologists believe Victorian builders "robbed" the ruins of a house at the centre of the Jacobite cause for its stone.

James Erskine, Lord Grange, is thought to have hosted clandestine meetings of Jacobites at Preston House in the years before the 1745 rebellion.

A dig has uncovered buried remains of the mansion at Prestonpans in East Lothian.

Evidence of stone being taken was found at what would have been its east wing.

Dr Tony Pollard, of the University of Glasgow, led the excavation by local volunteers under the auspices of Prestonpans Battlefield Trust.

Excavation trenches revealed evidence for a wall of the east wing of the house, which had been robbed out
Dr Tony Pollard
University of Glasgow

Nothing remains above ground of the country mansion but period maps and a geophysical survey suggested sections were buried beneath the lawn of the town's community centre.

The house featured in the Battle of Prestonpans between Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite army and government troops led by Sir John Cope, who were fighting the Young Pretender's challenge to the Hanoverian reign on the British throne.

A number of Cope's soldiers died after becoming trapped against its walls.

The Jacobites were victorious in the battle fought on 21 September 1745.

It was one of the first conflicts of the last Jacobite rising, which ended in defeat at Culloden the following April.

Dr Pollard, of the university's Centre for Battlefield Archaeology, said a number of interesting finds were made during the dig.

He said: "Excavation trenches revealed evidence for a wall of the east wing of the house, which had been robbed out during the Victorian period, leaving only a deep trench behind.

"The stones were removed to be used in the new walls and buildings around the site."

Jacobite symbols

Dr Pollard added: "An interesting result of the survey was the recognition that two sculptured flower heads in the wall of a garden in a nearby street, and long known about by local people, are in fact cockades - the white cockade being a symbol of the Jacobite cause.

"There seems little doubt that they originated in a garden ornament or decoration of the house across the road."

In the late 18th Century Preston House became Shaw Hospital - a school for the "sons of poor but respectable local people".

By the early 19th Century the building was falling into disrepair and so a new building was constructed close by, on the site of the present day community centre building.

White cockades were found in the walls of a garden

Fragments of pottery and wine bottles from the 1700s and two badges from the uniforms of boys who attended Shaw Hospital were found during the dig.

The excavations ended with an open day for the public and attended by a re-enactment group in period costume.

Lord Grange is thought to have owned the house before the uprising in 1745 and hosted meetings during the 1730s.

His brother, John Erskine, the Earl of Mar, led the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1715.

The earl, who owned Braemar Castle in Aberdeenshire, had voted for the 1707 Act of Union.

He had also been Secretary of State for Scotland until 1714 but rose up against the authorities.

The Earl of Mar gathered support from lands north of the River Tay, including the north east and Highlands.

Lord Grange was also sympathetic to the cause but encountered problems with his estranged wife, who did not share his feelings towards the cause.

The lord had her kidnapped and she was first taken to North Uist before sailing to Hirta, the main island on the St Kilda archipelago, 41 miles off the Western Isles.

Erskine claimed she had died and a funeral was even held.

The lady remained in exile for almost 10 years living among the islands' fisher folk and guga hunters - men who scaled sea cliffs to catch gannets for food.

It is said she managed to get a letter to friends in Edinburgh but they were unable to rescue her.

Lady Grange spent the last years of her life on Skye.

Dr Pollard said he hoped the site of the house would be marked by a plaque.

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